Pittsburgh Penguins Gun Down Red Wings in Heart-Stopping Thriller
Warning: Watching these Stanley Cup Finals can be hazardous to your health.
That’s what I was thinking after watching Dan Cleary sail in all alone on Marc-Andre Fleury in the game’s final minutes with a chance to tie it up and send it into overtime.
By that point, my heart had been pounding like a bass drum for the last two periods, and I’m not at all sure it didn’t miss a few beats along the way.
Little did I know that things were going to get a whole lot worse in the game’s final minute. Rob Scuderi decided to play goalie and made some brilliant and unlikely saves as the final seconds ticked down.
My brain was also starved for oxygen since, on more than one occasion, I had to mentally remind myself to breathe.
That’s what playoff hockey is all about.
It’s kind of like watching a horror movie at times. You want to look away, but you can’t...not until the final seconds tick off giving you a much needed reprieve.
The Penguins came out in this one gunning, which was no big surprise. They dominated the first period, firing shot after shot on Chris Osgood while hitting anything in red.
I think I even saw Brooks Orpik try to throw a check on a fan wearing red in the front row of the Arena.
But, I started getting that uneasy feeling that every fan gets who knows his team is playing far better than their opponent and can’t seem to cash in on the scoreboard.
Bad things usually happen in those situations.
The fact that the Penguins were tied up at zero after the first period was a minor miracle for the Red Wings.
The Penguins were playing with a fury born out of sheer desperation and determination.
But, how long could they play with that kind of energy?
And, when would the inevitable momentum shift happen?
Finally, the Penguins jumped on the board early in the second period when Jordan Staal made his second monumentally huge goal of the series.
That early goal was the only one scored in a second consecutive period mostly controlled by the Penguins.
The Wings had to feel good about where they stood going into the second intermission considering how badly they had been outplayed up until that point.
Staal was joined on the scoreboard by linemate Tyler Kennedy, who put the Penguins up 2-0 approaching midway through the final period and gave them some breathing room, at least for a couple minutes.
I suspect that very few people thought the Penguins were going to coast to victory even with the two goal lead.
You just knew the Red Wings’ charge was coming.
That charge had actually started in the final minutes of the second period but it wasn't until the second half of the third period that Kris Draper pulled the Wings to within a goal by beating Fleury.
What followed was one of the most exciting final ten minutes of a hockey game I’ve ever seen.
The roles had reversed in the third period.
The Red Wings now played liked the cornered beast, desperately trying to fend off seeing the series go to Game Seven. They attacked…and then attacked…and then attacked some more.
After drawing within a goal, they got one power play opportunity, and then another.
Fleury, whose biggest challenge through much of the first two periods was to fight off boredom, suddenly was under constant siege.
I think the second penalty kill was the key moment in the game. The Penguins were tired. They had just killed off a penalty, and now they had to go back out there and do it again. Bill Guerin sat dejectedly in the penalty box, replacing Evgeni Malkin as the Penguin forced to look on and hope his team could bail him out.
They did, but not without some tense moments.
Neither penalty kill was pretty. Rob Scuderi took an early turn at goal tender, just pushing a puck out of the front of the net before it was knocked home.
Still, when the final second ticked off the second penalty, the Penguins still clung to a one goal lead.
But, the game was still far from over.
With less than two minutes to play, Dan Cleary broke free with Brooks Orpik, who played a brilliant defensive game—unable to do much but try to rattle him from behind. Fleury made his biggest save of the day, reminiscent of the stop he made on Alexander Ovechkin in Game Seven of the Capitals’ series.
The Red Wings still weren’t done.
Chris Osgood skated to the bench and, after a couple key faceoff wins, the Wings made one final furious assault on Flower.
And they had him beat. He was way out of position after making a save. The puck was on its way in. We were going to overtime, and then Rob Scuderi desperately threw himself at the puck like it was a live grenade.
It slowed it down, but it continued to trickle toward the net. He stuck out his foot, stopping the puck. Finally, Fleury got his glove on the puck, stopping play.
That was the second time that Scuderi had saved a goal in the game in what was a remarkable sequence of play for him.
It was the unlikely Scuderi that kept the Penguins' Stanley Cup dream alive.
Thirteen seconds remained.
The Red Wings won another faceoff and took one more desperate stab at the equalizer but couldn’t push it in.
The Stanley Cup was packed back up for a one way trip to Detroit. It wouldn’t be coming out in Pittsburgh this year.
In this game, the two stars were the goalies. Chris Osgood was absolutely sensational, keeping the Red Wings in a game they had no right being in late in the third. Had the Wings won, his performance tonight would have locked up the MVP trophy for him.
For his part, Fleury came through when it mattered most.
He made several huge saves in the third period, not giving up a goal in a period in which Red Wings were buzzing around him like angry hornets for the full twenty minutes.
This had to feel cathartic for him after the criticism he took following Game Five.
He was justifiably named the game's first star, but he got by with more than a little help from his friends, especially Scuderi and Orpik.
The play of the Penguins' defenders has been one of the underreported stories of this series. They are playing far better than the blueliners from last year's squad.
So, what can we take away from this game going into Game Seven?
If there is one thing we should have learned by now in this series, it is that looking to the previous game for some sense of how the next game will unfold is a sucker’s bet.
The home team is undefeated in this series, but even looking to that for some sense of how the final game will unfold may not be altogether smart.
These two teams have yet to face a game of this magnitude when both teams have their back to the wall.
There is no knowing how it will unfold.
Two great hockey teams will clash one more time in a true championship game to determine who gets to carry around Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It is one final chance for heroes to emerge.
May the best team win…at least if it’s the Penguins.
If it is the Red Wings, may the worst team win.
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